“Dust and Peace”
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Matthew 10: 5-15
We think of Jesus as loving, forgiving, patient, compassionate, and surely he is all these things.
But he can also be tough.
You see this in some of his sayings, like “Don’t throw your pearls before swine.” (Matthew 7: 6) A candidate who said something like that would be cut up into little pieces on the blogosphere, am I right? “Don’t throw your pearls before swine.” It is a tough statement.
It didn’t seem to faze Jesus if people walked away from him. He didn’t go running after them. Jesus could be tough.
You can see this in Jesus’ instructions to his disciples when he sends them out as missionaries, especially in his instructions to them as to what they should do in the face of opposition, adversity and defeat.
He has two instructions about this.
He says: “Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”
What an interesting instruction! If the house is worthy, give it your peace, but if it is not worthy or hospitable, let your peace return to you.
Then the other instruction: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”
These are Jesus instructions to his disciples about how to deal with opposition, adversity and defeat. Tough words.
in the middle of a sermon series right now on Jetsam and Flotsam on the
The idea has taken me to a number of Scripture passages that deal with what we need to let go of and what we need to hold on to in order to survive the storms of life. This week the idea of jetsam and flotsam has taken me to these instructions of Jesus to what we who are his disciples should do about opposition, adversity and defeat.
I find Jesus’ first instruction on this absolutely fascinating: As you travel from town to town sharing good news and healing and bringing resurrection and sanity, find a household that will let you stay with them, Jesus tells his disciples. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it; he says. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.
When we are part of a household, a workplace, a neighborhood, a congregation, our peace becomes intertwined with the peace of that household, workplace, neighborhood, congregation. We give the groups and communities with whom we spend our lives our peace.
If the group turns out to be inhospitable or adversarial, Jesus says let your peace return to you. Share your peace with others with whom you live and love and work and play, but don’t let them take it away from you. In the face of opposition or adversity, let your peace return to you.
Let’s think of some examples.
A friend once told me that he had figured out how to find peace in his marriage. As a result of a lot of introspection and therapy, he said, he had gotten to the place where he was waking up in the morning feeling serene and happy to be alive. The only problem, he said, was that his wife came downstairs every morning while he was reading the paper and she would talk about all the things in the house that needed to be fixed, all the bills that needed to be paid, all the problems that had to be fixed. He said she would leave the house every morning feeling better after having got all these things off of her chest. But after listening to all of this he would feel depressed and discouraged the rest of the morning.
But he told me he had solved the problem. How? I asked. He said that he realized he has two options every morning – to either stay asleep until she is out of the house or else to get up early enough to be out of the house before she got downstairs. He let his peace return to him.
We bring our peace to our intimate relationships but when they become conflicted and adversarial, we let our peace return to us.
I want to say a word about this to parents this morning. I learned this, insofar as I actually did learn it, the hard way. Share your peace with your children, but don’t give your peace away to them. When you are parenting, there will be lots of times you will need to stop and let your peace return to you.
The times I regret the most as a parent were the times I allowed my children to take my peace away from me. Sometimes they figured out how to do things that just kept me agitated inside. Say hypothetically you had a child who decided to stop tying her running shoe laces for 6 months and it became a daily battle between you and her as to whether or not she would tie her shoe laces. Hypothetically. Set limits on your children, discipline them, but do it after you have let your peace return to you, not while your peace is somewhere else. Don’t let your children take your peace from you.
Share your peace with your workplace but don’t let your workplace take your peace away from you. The Episcopal priest Garret Keizer in his book about anger entitle The Enigma of Anger says “When I look for people who have their anger under control…what I find most often are men and women who love their work.…Persistent anger, perhaps even more than persistent depression, is the sign of someone living contrary to his or her vocation.”[ii] Work becomes a breeding bed of anger, he says, when we make an idol of work...when we think work will save us. If our work is making us angry or depressed, we can let our peace return to us in our workplace if we stop giving it the power to save or damn us.
Share your peace in your congregation but don’t let church take your peace from you. During my years on annual conference staffs I experienced a great irony. I would be invited in by churches to help them face problems and issues of one sort or another. Often I would ask people why they come to church. I’d get many different answers: To pray, to grow, to know God, for community, to serve. When I was invited in to work with highly conflicted congregations, I would get the same answer to this question with amazing predictability. In highly conflicted congregations, when I would ask people why they come to church, the answer with an amazing degree of regularity was “To find peace.” Isn’t it ironic? People came to highly conflicted congregations to find peace. They would say: “My life is full of stress and strife all week long. I want my church to be a sanctuary where I can find peace.” And these would be the most highly conflicted churches.
Why? Because we can’t find peace out there somewhere not even in church, it has to be inside of us. If we are trying to find peace out there, the way we end up trying to do it is by trying to control our environment to make it peaceful, and as soon as you have a group of individuals all trying to control their common environment you’ve got conflict.
What do we do when we face opposition and adversity at home or at work or at church? Jesus says we let our peace return to us. Peace – your peace and my peace – is flotsam. In the storms of life, our inner peace will keep us afloat until we can make our way to shore. We can share our peace but we shall not give it away.
In the face of opposition and adversity, the first thing that you and I are to do, Jesus says, is to let our peace return to us. We are no good to anyone unless we are living out of a centered peaceful self. Our peace is flotsam.
But no matter how hard we try in our relationships, there will always be those that fail. Jesus has an instruction for this too. “Shake the dust from your feet.”
I am not a beach-goer anymore. I do not like vacations at the beach much. The reason is that no matter how hard you try to be careful and to clean up, you will be finding sand in your car and on your clothes and all sorts of unexpected places for weeks and weeks to come. It is the same for me with Christmas trees. I avoid them if I can because no matter how careful you try to clean up after you’ve thrown it out on Epiphany Day, you will find pine needs here and there for weeks to come.
Defeat and rejection and failure are like this spiritually. Unless we really shake the dust off of our feet, we will find defeat polluting our lives for years and years to come.
Defeat, rejection and failure are just part of life. I was listening to a podcast[iii] of a mother speaking this past Mother’s Day. She had asked her grown children what they wish she would have done differently. One of the things they told her was that they wished she had let them face their failures. They said they were part of a generation in which everybody got a trophy, and they wished it had been more okay to fail and to lose. When it is not okay to fail, every failure pollutes your life.
Stanley Hauerwas says that one of the implications of Jesus’ instruction about shaking the dust off of our feet is this. He says: “The kingdom, it seems, grows through rejection. Success is not a sign of faithfulness.”
Defeat and rejection and failure are a worthy part of life. Our instructions are to learn from defeat, to shake the dust of it from our feet and to move on. Otherwise we make an idol of success so that defeat devastates us, and it can pollute our lives for years to come.
I am very aware this morning that there are few of us here, if any, who are not wrestling with something or someone threatening our peace. Maybe it is family or work, but someone or something is threatening to take our peace away from us.
I am very aware this morning that there are surely some of us who have recently experienced failure in our lives…a relationship that has ended, a job that didn’t work out, a job we wanted that we didn’t get, a campaign that was lost, a child who is distant, a friend who is not there for us right now.
So we listen quietly to Jesus this morning. He says, if the house is not worth, let your peace return to you. He says, Shake the dust of defeat from your feet and the kingdom will grow in you.
May we find the grace the hear him and to follow him.